Arthritic disease is one of the most serious problems facing our aging furry friends. The bigger they are, the more likely they are to have arthritis develop to crisis proportions. The earlier arthritis is addressed, the better the long-term outlook can be.
In dogs, the articular cartilage that lines all the major joints is 1 to 1.5 mm thick (in contrast, human joints have at least 3 times that cartilage thickness). This is a crucial detail as osteoarthritic disease is an unrelenting cartilage destructive disease. Destructive enzymes cause the cartilage to fray and crack, gradually the cartilage is worn away, leaving us with bone on bone contact. Bone on bone contact is a very painful condition. It is virtually impossible to effectively control this kind of pain. In human medicine, such patients would face joint replacement surgery, which is rarely an option for dogs and cats.
Most pets with arthritis suffer in silence, animals hide pain as a survival trait left over from their wild ancestors, so you rarely hear pets whimper or whine (in fact, with most pets, by the time you actually hear them complain, they are in severe pain and have been for some time). A careful observer might notice increased difficulty rising after lying down, a hesitancy when approaching stairs, or a reluctance or lowered enthusiasm for daily walks. Arthritic pets might seem crankier or less involved with daily life, and they may reduce their activity level, which can ironically make things worse by facilitating weight gain and decreased muscle mass.
Fortunately, we now have numerous therapeutic treatments available to us to help arthritic pets stay comfortable and active. Oral glucosamine/chondroitin supplements like Dasuquin can help, although even more effective is Adequan, an injectable once a month cartilage protectant that you can learn to give easily at home. It is important to note that glucosamine can only help prevent further damage, it cannot undo damage that has already happened. Pain management is vital, and in addition to traditional medications like Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory medications like Rimadyl or meloxicam, we have many other very safe and effective medications available.
Many owners state that they just assumed their pet was getting old, when in fact the pet was painful. Managing a pet’s pain can bring back the happy, active pet you remember.
Weight management is also vitally important for all pets, but especially so for arthritic pets.
Physical rehabilitation therapy is also extremely helpful for maintaining and improving function.